This Day in the Civil War

Monday Dec. 23, 1861

Lord Lyons, his diplomatic patience nearing exhaustion, finally presented his government’s ultimatum. Her Majesty Queen Victoria hereby made a demand for the surrender of Confederate agents Mason and Slidell, who had been taken off a British mail ship in mid-ocean in contravention of maritime law. Up with delay she would not put. Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner, who had a certain amount of jurisdiction because the two were being held in a prison in Boston Harbor, met with President Lincoln and urged that the men be turned over, on the grounds that they were becoming an embarrassment. Lincoln was only too happy to agree, noting that "one war at a time" was entirely enough.

Tuesday Dec. 23, 1862

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, USA, was not making himself at all popular as the military governor of New Orleans. (One order said women who harassed Union soldiers would be arrested and treated as prostitutes.) On this day Jefferson Davis issued an order that if Butler were to be captured he should be hanged immediately, rather than treated as a military prisoner of war. It is not uncommon in wartime for combatants to demonize their opponents to stir up support among their own people, but Butler had a special talent for antagonizing.

Wednesday Dec. 23, 1863

Things were not nearly active enough in the Department of Tennessee to suit the Confederate needs. Union forces essentially controlled the entire state, peace and order was largely in place, and nobody except Nathan Bedford Forrest was doing much of anything to combat this. President Jefferson Davis took this day to write a letter to Gen. Johnston urging more strenuous efforts. He hoped that Johnston would “soon be able to commence active operations against the enemy.”

Friday Dec. 23, 1864

As part of the true civil war--between the Army and the Navy that is--the seagoing forces had requested the creation of the rank of Vice Admiral. This would correspond to the new Army rank of Lieutenant General. Today Congress approved the rank, and it was conferred on David G. Farragut. He had also been the first to hold the then-new rank of Rear Admiral.

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